Thanksgiving is the favorite holiday for foodies and families (and families of foodies). Sharing delicious dishes of mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, gravy, and, of course, the turkey — what's not to love? Since your dog is a vital part of your family, it's understandable that you’d want to share some of this yummy feast with them, especially if your pup has been eyeballing the turkey and drooling all day. Can your dog eat turkey, though? The short answer is yes. But according to Paola Cuevas, veterinarian and behaviorist with Pet Keen, you need to take some precautions first.
"Turkey is a great and nutritious option to share with your dog. Just make sure it is plain grilled turkey without the skin or bone," Cuevas says. "Stay away from added oils, spices, or marinades; this increases the risk of onion or garlic intoxication since all forms of onion, even powdered onion, are dangerous to your dog."
Even foods that are healthy for dogs, like turkey, should be given in moderation and not take the place of their regular diet. Here are a few essential pointers to remember about feeding your dog turkey.
Is turkey safe for dogs?
While turkey is a common ingredient found in many dog foods, when it comes to feeding turkey meat to your pup, Cuevas recommends plain, grilled turkey fillets or pieces of shredded turkey. "Stick to lean pieces since very fatty pieces put the dog at risk of pancreatitis," she explains. "Remove any small bone pieces and excessive fat. Make sure you give the meat a chance to cool down before offering it to your dog to prevent any burn injury."
Avoid feeding your dog any turkey skin, says Cuevas, since it's too high in fat content. Additionally, she cautions against giving a dog a turkey wing or any piece of meat with bones from the barbecue. "Turkey bones become brittle when cooked. These bones not only represent a choking hazard but, because they can shatter into sharp pieces, mouth or dental injuries are not uncommon. And in the worst-case scenario, perforations of the gastrointestinal organs with fatal consequences," says Cuevas.
Garlic and other pants from the genus Allum, which includes leek and chives, are all toxic to dogs, which is why you want to avoid feeding your pup any meat with spices or marinades. Some chili-based spices could also cause stomach irritation and digestive issues, so Cuevas advises against those too. Additionally, avoid feeding your dog any gravy or stuffings — these usually contain excessive fats from butter, putting the dog at risk of developing gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, and even pancreatitis.
Suggests Cuevas, "By simply avoiding any marinades, excessive oils, salt, and other spices and choosing lean, plain, and boneless turkey, you can prevent turning the treat into a risk to your dog."
How much turkey should you feed your dog?
The amount of turkey a dog can ingest largely depends on its size and life stage. According to Cuevas, four ounces of roasted turkey has approximately 214 kcal and 32 grams of protein. A thin slice has approximately 25 calories and four grams of protein.
If you are planning to share a bit of Thanksgiving turkey with your dog, Cuevas says a good way of finding a measure is by calculating the calories your dog typically has for dinner. "Your dog's food should include this information on the label. It is safe to substitute the normal calories for this special occasion," she says, noting, "just make sure that this is plain, roasted turkey without excessive oils, without added salt, without skin, and without bones." She adds that this suggestion is for healthy dogs — sick dogs with a special diet should consult their veterinarian before making any dietary changes.
Knowing the portion your dog is allowed to eat before feeding is essential to avoid any excess, explains Cuevas, and helps prevent gastrointestinal distress.
Should you warn guests about feeding turkey to your dog?
"It can be challenging to keep your dog safe during Thanksgiving dinner and other reunions. Even if your friends offer only dog-safe foods, excessive ingestion of food can turn into gastrointestinal distress," Cuevas says. "It is very important that everyone knows and understands that feeding the dog from their plate puts its health at great risk." Her advice is to make a public announcement that the dog should not be fed by anyone, "making special emphasis on explaining that bones should not be fed to the dog either."
She also recommends providing a designated dog-safe container to toss plate leftovers, placing it somewhere unreachable to your dog. "If your dog is very hungry and you think its health is at risk, it is better to keep it in a separate room during dinner time and bring it back out once the food has been cleared and removed. Better safe than sorry!"